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Is ‘Sex Addiction’ Real or Just an Excuse?

Is ‘Sex Addiction’ Real or Just an Excuse?

In the past few weeks, reality TV star Josh Duggar admitted to using porn and cheating on his wife, and then quietly went off to rehab, citing porn addiction as the reason he became unfaithful to his wife.

Porn addiction and sex addiction have been largely accepted concepts in some circles of society—especially among evangelicals—for years. But some people don’t agree that someone can, in fact, be addicted to porn or sex. After Duggar’s rehab announcement, writers for The Daily Beast and Slate, both argued (persuasively, I might add) that porn/sex addiction is “not a real thing.” And that Duggar was just using addiction as an excuse for his own moral failings.

I have two responses:

First, psychology is a difficult scientific discipline. People are too complicated in their individuality to study authoritatively, and, as was pointed out recently in The Atlantic, psychological studies are difficult to reproduce scientifically. Additionally, FiveThirtyEight recently ran a great piece about how doing science is just really, really hard.

The fact is: while the term “sexual addiction” used to be in American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it has indeed been removed.

But just because we’ve changed the name of something, that doesn’t mean it no longer exists. We used to call autism a disease, but we no longer classify it that way. Does that mean no one has autism anymore? Of course not! We just know better how to understand and relate to those who process the world through an autistic brain.

At XXXchurch, we deal all the time with people who feel a compulsion to use pornography, a compulsion that is so strong that they feel overwhelmed by it. They feel powerless against it and need a lot of help to learn how to turn the tables on that compulsion. Are they deceiving themselves or being disingenuous when they call that compulsion an addiction?

Are we just arguing over terminology? Please tell me we are, because “Sorry, it’s not in this manual, and therefore isn’t real” is not only a short-sighted way to view the world, but also goes against the lived experience of the thousands of people we’ve helped during the course of our ministry.

My second response is this: There are differences among Christians that non-Christians don’t notice. Us Christians all tend to get lumped into one big bucket, especially by those who are (rightfully) hostile to the religious scolds who claim their morality is superior to all other morality.

A lot of people in the secular world don’t like Josh Duggar, so they’re going to hate anything he does, and that includes going to “rehab.” They’re going to see that just him dodging responsibility for his actions. And they may be right. I can totally see that being the case, and we shouldn’t give him a free pass even if he was struggling with porn.

But that doesn’t discount the hard work literally thousands of people are doing to overcome their own addiction. Our team at XXXchurch has seen it over and over again.

Too many Christians take a nothing-or-nothing approach—they’re worried about becoming alcoholics, so they never touch a drop of alcohol; they’re worried about damaging their psyche, so they never watch media that isn’t Dove-approved or listen to any music that doesn’t get played by the church worship band.

We’re not those kinds of Christians. We’re not saying all porn should be illegal or that you should stand on the corner outside a strip club and yell at the performers that Jesus hates them.

But we are Christians who see that porn is a problem for a lot of people. We’ve seen it ruin lives. We’ve seen it tear apart marriages. We’ve seen it abandon kids. We see it all the time.

People come to us because they’re hurting; they feel they’re suffering at the whims of a force that is greater than them, something they cannot control. They want to find freedom from that force; it’s robbing them of their lives, and they want to be empowered to get those lives back.

So what should we tell them?

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